This is a guest post by Shivang Mehta – Canon mentor, award-winning wildlife photographer, and founder of Nature Wanderers.
One of the most photographed cats, the ‘Tiger’ can trigger a rush of adrenaline in most of us- but what if you are one of those who have ‘Been there done that’? You spend time and money and venture out in the scorching heat of the cruel Indian summer only to be faced with scenes that are dull and boring. Forget adrenaline rush, your body produces melatonin, inducing sleep! So much so for a tiger safari then…
We as photographers are constantly looking for tiger action in the form of hunts, play sequences and interactions, or shooting the cat in the soft morning or evening light. What we get instead is-
- Tigers sitting in cemented water tanks
- Tigers in the bushes
The subject you go out seeking is smarter than you- it will give you a half open-eye look as if telling you to go chill in a swimming pool or sit in the shade too, it’s too hot to be cooking yourselves alive.
These are some common sightings that happen on a daily basis in the Indian Tiger Reserves. Summer sightings like these are considered to be below average owing to the harsh light or the man-made structures, and the drooping shoulders of a lot of camera owners around me are signs of what I have termed as ‘tiger boredom’!
Over the years I too have been bitten by this boredom way too often, but I have tried to come up with ideas to overcome it by experimenting with such tiger sightings. As I write this note, a lazy (read, smart) tiger is sitting in front of me in a cemented water tank cooling itself. I have my doubts if it will get up in the next hour or two or more. Just like I have committed myself to be burnt alive, this tiger has committed himself to chill in his waterhole.
And while I hope he gets into action at some point eventually, let me pen down some thoughts on how to counter this tiger boredom 🙂
We all start with shooting tiger portraits- some graduate and learn how to zoom out and capture the majestic feline in its environment, some never do. It’s after all the world’s most photogenic cat.
But in a scenario where you can’t do much with the environment, have you thought of doing an extreme portrait of the cat? Stacking up all the glass in your kit for a tight close up of the eye if it’s open, or the nose, or experimenting with the depth of field by keeping certain parts of the face in focus and blurring the rest? IMHO these are some engaging exercises that can keep you committed while your body cooks itself, making the stepping out in the sun a little more worthwhile.
The Dissection Technique for Portraits
From head to tail, the tiger is by far one of the most charismatic subjects and as a photographer, I see frames and perspectives in every part of its body. What better than a lazy tiger sitting out in the open to hone your observation skills. Stripes, paws, powerful back hunches, nose, whiskers – each and every body part of the tiger has a hidden image that is yet to be explored. Never went to a Zoology practical class? Try it out with your camera and lens on the most majestic subject available.
The Cement Issue
We crib about our cities being a concrete jungle, and then we encounter concrete in the jungles too! What a bummer- that’s what you ran away from, to begin with.
Tigers in cemented water tanks are a big taboo for photographers. I didn’t pick up my camera at one point in time to photograph something which wasn’t natural. One fine summer evening of 2014, I noticed something during one of my safaris in Bandhavgarh which changed my thought process. Extreme portraits are of course an easy way to deal with the cement issue, but what else can be done? What caught my eye was the trail of water dripping from the belly when the cat got up from the water, and ever since I have been enticed with images of belly waterfalls.
Cement water holes have a unique feature. Before the tongue of a tiger touches these water bodies, the water is still and this stillness gives a mirror-like reflection, giving plenty of opportunities that can be explored around reflections.
So, the next time you spend a bomb to venture on a full-day safari in peak summers, risking a sunstroke, don’t doze off to give the sleeping cat company. Tigers have been widely photographed in today’s time but in my opinion, there are tons of tiger images yet to be taken. Make the best of what you have, challenge your brain cells, trigger those creative juices, and make the adventure out in the sun worth your while.
Shivang is the best-selling author of ‘A Decade with Tigers’ and ‘Chasing Horizons: Learnings from Africa‘, and co-author of ‘Leopards & Shepherds of JAWAI‘. He is the founder of Nature Wanderers, which had conducted over 1000 wildlife photography tours and safaris and a multitude of unique wildlife events in some of the toughest terrains of the globe, mentored over a thousand amateur photographers, and partnered with the best global professional wildlife photographers. As a part of his work, Shivang makes extensive use of technology such as DSLR camera trapping and remote shooting. He is also the brand ambassador for Canon and Columbia Sports and has been published in numerous national and international publications.
- How to tackle “Tiger Boredom” on a hot summer afternoon - August 19, 2020